Members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West organized the protests to demand Kaiser Permanente provide additional support as the pandemic continues, claiming that the Oakland-based health care giant slashed performance sharing bonuses despite $6.4 billion in profits last year.
SEIU members are also asking Kaiser Permanente to incentivize its workers to stay in their positions after a year of emotional fatigue and burnout from the pandemic and support the Health Care Worker Recognition and Retention Act.
The state legislation, sponsored by SEIU California, requires health care employers pay dividends to non-executive employees who worked during the pandemic.
“This feels like a slap in the face,” Gabriel Montoya, Kaiser Downey emergency room technician, said in a statement regarding the cut bonuses. Montoya contracted COVID-19 in an exposure he believes happened at work.
Added Montoya: “From Kaiser not filling open positions, to limiting the distribution of masks and other (personal protective equipment), to being forced to care for our patients without enough staff, we have been pushed to the brink. We were on board with improving attendance before the pandemic, but we’ve gotten exposed and sick from COVID because we came to work. Some workers were hospitalized and even died. And for that, they’re going to cut our bonus? It’s unbelievable.”
Arlene Peasnall, vice president of human resources for Kaiser Permanente, issued the following statement regarding 2020 bonus payouts: “Late last fall, labor and management leaders recognized that year-end performance bonus programs for union-represented employees could be a challenge to achieve in the pandemic. Some unions advocated for a ‘hero bonus.’ Working collaboratively with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, the Alliance of Health Care Unions and others, we chose to guarantee all eligible, represented employees a minimum of a 100-percent payout of their performance sharing bonus payment.”
More than 160,000 union employees received at least a full payout of the hero bonus this year, Peasnall said. A “full payout” for its 58,000-plus SEIU-UHW employees equates to, on average, more than $2,200 per employee.
That’s 112 percent of the target payout amount, Peasnall added in her statement.
“Over the past year we provided $375 million in employee assistance to ensure that frontline employees had access to alternate housing options, special childcare grants, and two full weeks of additional paid leave for COVID-19 illness and exposure,” Peasnall said, in response to the union’s call for more support. “In addition, our represented employees have received step wage increases and guaranteed annual wage increases. We thank each and every one of our employees for helping to deliver on our mission of providing high-quality, affordable health care.”